The Bitter Cry of the Children
The cover image was created by the transcriber and is placed in the public domain.
A TYPICAL SCENE
The matron of a Day Nursery examining a child’s throat. The two “Little Mothers” are typical.
THE BITTER CRY OF THE CHILDREN
I count myself fortunate in having had a hand inbringing this remarkable and invaluable volume intoexistence. Quite incidentally in my book Poverty Imade an estimate of the number of underfed children inNew York City. If our experts or our general readingpublic had been at all familiar with the subject, myestimate would probably have passed without comment,and, in any case, it would not have been consideredunreasonable. But the public did not seemto realize that this was merely another way of statingthe volume of distress, and, consequently, for severaldays the newspapers throughout the country discussedthe statement and in some instances severelycriticised it. One prominent charitable organization,thinking that my estimate referred to starvingchildren, undertook, without delay, to provide mealsfor the children. In the midst of the excitementMr. Spargo kindly volunteered to investigate thefacts at first hand. His inquiry was so searchingand impartial and the data he gathered so interestingand valuable that I urged him to put his materialin some permanent form. The following admirablestudy of this problem is the result of that suggestion.
viiiI am safe in saying that this book is a truly powerfulone, destined, I believe, to become a mighty factorin awakening all classes of our people to the necessityof undertaking measures to remedy the conditionswhich exist. The appeal of adults in povertyis an old appeal, so old indeed that we have becomein a measure hardened to its pathos and insensitiveto its tragedy. But this book represents the cry ofthe child in distress, and it will touch every humanheart and even arouse to action the stolid and apathetic.The originality of the book lies in the massof proof which the author brings before the readershowing that it is not alone, as most of our charitableexperts believe, the misery of the neglected or theactively maltreated child that should receive attention.Even more important is the misery of thatone whose whole future is darkened and perhapsblasted by reason of the fact that during his earlyyears of helplessness he has not received those elementsof nutritious food which are necessary to awholesome physical life.
Few of us sufficiently realize the powerful effectupon life of adequate nutritious food. Few of usever think of how much it is responsible for ourphysical and mental advancement or what a forceit has been in forwarding our civilized life. Mr.Spargo does not attempt in this book to make usrealize how much the more favored classes owe to theixfact that they have been able to obtain proper nutrition.His effort here is to show the fearful devastatingeffect upon a certain portion of our populationof an inadequate and improper food supply. Heshows the relation of the lack of food to poverty.The child of poverty is brought before us. Hisweaknesses, his mental and physical inferiority, hisfailure, his sickness, his death, are shown in theirrelation to improper and inadequate food. He firstproves to our satisfaction that this child of miseryis born into the world with powerful potentialities,and he then shows, with tragic power, how the lackof proper food during infancy makes it inevitablethat this child become, if he lives at all, an incompetent,physical weakling. It is perhaps unnecessaryto point out that the problem of poverty islargely summed up in the fate of this child, and whenthe author deals with this subject he is in realitytreating of poverty in the germ.
There have been many books written about thechildren of the poor, but, in my opinion, none of themgive us so impressive a statement as is containedhere of the most important and powerful cause ofpoverty. Among many reasons which may be foundfor the existence of distress, the author has taken onewhich seems to be more fundamental than the others.But, while this is true, there is no dogmatic treatmentof the problem, for the author realizes that thexcauses of poverty in this country of abundance arenumerous. Indeed, wherever one looks, one maysee conditions which are fertile in producing it.Students of the poor find some of these causes in theconditions surrounding the poor. Students of financeand of modern industry find causes of poverty in themethods and constitution of this portion of oursociety. The causes, therefore, of poverty cannotbe gone into fully in any partial study of modernsociety. It is even maintained, and not withoutreason, that if all men were sober, competent, and industrious,there would be no less poverty in the world.But however that may be, one thing is certain, andthat is that as the race as a whole could not haveadvanced beyond savagery without a fortuitousprovision of material necessities, so it is not possiblefor the children of the poor to overcome their povertyuntil they are assured in their childhood of the physicalnecessities of life. We should have no civilizationto-day, our entire race would still be a wildhorde of brutalized savages, but for the meat andmilk diet or the grain diet assured to our earliestforefathers. And it should not be forgotten thatas this is true of the life of the race, so is it trueof that portion of our community which lives inpoverty unable to procure proper food to give itschildren. This is the great fundamental fact whichlies at the base of the problem of poverty and whichxiis the theme of this book. It is a fact which shouldbe best known to the men and women who workin the field of our philanthropies, and yet it must besaid that it is a fact which has heretofore been almostentirely ignored by this class of workers.
For this reason I welcome this volume. I am convincedthat it will mark the beginning of an epochof deeper study and of sounder philanthropy. I lookto see in the near future some effort made to establisha standard of physical well-being for the children.I expect to see the community insisting that someprovision shall be made whereby every child borninto the world will receive sufficient food to enablehim to possess enough vitality to overcome unnecessaryand preventable disease and to grow into amanhood physically capable of satisfactorily competingin industrial or intellectual pursuits. I donot believe that this is a dream impossible of realization.About a hundred years ago our forefathersdecided that there should be a universal standardof literacy. To bring this about the following generationsof men established a free school systemwhich was meant to assure to every child a certainminimum of education. If that can be done for themind, the other thing can be done for the body. Andwhen it is done for the body, we shall make anotherstriking advance in civilization not unlike that recordedin the history of mankind when the freexiipeople of this American continent established a systemof free and universal education.
If such a momentous thing should follow the publicationof this book, and similar studies which willwithout doubt subsequently be made, its publicationwould indeed mark an epoch. But, of course,it must be said that before any far-reaching resultcan come, the general public must be acquaintedwith the conditions which exist. It is for this reasonthat I hope Mr. Spargo’s book will be read by hundredsof thousands of people, and that it will awaken in thema determination to respond wisely and justly to thebitter cry of the children of the poor.
The purpose of this volume is to state the problemof poverty as it affects childhood. Years of carefulstudy and investigation have convinced me that theevils inflicted upon children by poverty are responsiblefor many of the worst features of that hideousphantasmagoria of hunger, disease, vice, crime,and despair which we call the Social Problem. Ihave tried to visualize some of the principal phasesof the problem—the measure in which poverty isresponsible for the excessive infantile disease andmortality; the tragedy and folly of attempting toeducate the hungry, ill-fed school child; the terribleburdens borne by the working child in our modernindustrial system.
In the main the book is frankly based upon personalexperience and observation. It is essentiallya record of what I have myself felt and seen. ButI have freely availed myself of the experience andwritings of others, as reference to the book itselfwill show. I have tried to be impartial and unbiassedin my researches, and have not “winnowedthe facts till only the pleasing ones remained.” Attimes, indeed, I have found it necessary, while writingxivthis book, to abandon ideas which I had heldand promulgated for years. That is an experiencenot uncommon to those who submit opinions formedas a result of general observation to strict scientificscrutiny. I had long believed and had promulgatedthe opinion that the great mass of the children ofthe poor were blighted before they were born. Theevidence given before the British InterdepartmentalCommittee, by recognized leaders of the medical professionin England, pointed to a fundamentally differentview. According to that evidence, the number ofchildren born healthy and strong is not greater amongthe well-to-do classes than among the very poorest.The testimony seemed so conclusive, and the corroborationreceived from many obstetrical experts in thiscountry was so general, that I was forced to abandonas untenable the theory of antenatal degeneration.
In view of the foregoing, I need hardly say thatI do not claim any originality for the view thatNature starts all her children, rich and poor, physicallyequal, and that each generation gets practicallya fresh start, unhampered by the diseased and degeneratepast.[A] The tremendous sociological significanceof this truth—if truth it be—will, I think,be generally recognized. Readers of Ruskin’s ForsClavigera will remember the story of the dressmakerxvwith a broken thigh, who was told by the doctorsin St. Thomas’s Hospital, London, that her boneswere in all probability brittle because her mother’sgrandfather had been employed in the manufactureof sulphur. If this theory of antenatal degenerationis wrong, and we have not to reckon withgrandfathers and great-grandfathers, the solutionof the problem of arresting and repairing the deteriorationof the race is made so much easier. It maybe thought by some readers that I have acceptedthe brighter, more hopeful view too readily, andwith too much confidence. I can only say that Ihave read all the available evidence upon the otherside, and found myself at last obliged to accept thebrighter view. I cannot but feel that the actualexperience of obstetricians dealing with thousandsof natural human births every year is far more valuableand conclusive than any number of artificialexperiments upon guinea pigs, mice, or other animals.
The part of the book devoted to the discussion ofremedial measures will probably attract more criticismthan any other. I expect, and am prepared for,criticism from those, on the one hand, who will accuseme of being too radical and revolutionary,